How to Overcome Worry, Anger, and Fear
Paramhansa Yogananda often said that for the devotee on the spiritual path, “attitude is everything.” Last summer I had a daunting realization about some of my attitudes and habits, and especially my tendency to worry. In my job as Ananda Village manager, I have to coordinate quite a few projects and keep them moving, and I have a tendency to worry about the details. Divine Mother, I am certain, put me in this job to help me learn to transcend these worries by surrendering them to God. But it’s difficult because worrying about the details has become a habit.
Alone in nature and worry-free
Last summer I decided I would take a day of seclusion and go backpacking at Grouse Ridge, a beautiful camping area in the Tahoe National Forest, not far from Ananda Village. I was looking forward to being alone in nature, where I could enjoy life, worry-free. As I was driving up there, I was chanting and already feeling blissful.
It was August and the road up to Grouse Ridge usually opens in June, but the previous winter there had been nearly two hundred percent of the usual snowfall. My destination was the parking lot outside the campground. I hadn’t been on the road long when I saw lots of cars and trucks parked by the side of the road. Since there was no place to turn around, I continued on and was soon driving on a snow-covered road and, after that, through snow banks. My twenty-seven-year-old Ford truck was not the ideal vehicle for these conditions and I became concerned.
Nonetheless, I managed to make it all the way to the parking lot. There was not a car in sight, which was not a good sign. After parking my truck, I put on my backpack and started hiking.
Fighting the worry habit
Right away the worries started: “How do I get back through those snow banks? You know, it was downhill driving in. How are you going to get back, driving uphill? Oh it’s okay. We’ll worry about that tomorrow. No you don’t worry about that tomorrow! How are you going to get out? You’re going to get stuck. You could be here forever. You are going to have to hitchhike out. You’re going to miss work on Monday. You’re going to have to come back and get your truck!”
The worries continued until finally, I said, “No! I’m here for seclusion. I don’t want to do this!” Mentally I offered my concerns to God and Guru and prayed for their assistance to get me home the next day. As I hiked, I chanted, which calmed my chattering mind. Later, when I sat to meditate, I willed myself to focus on the techniques and, for a while, experienced the peace and calmness of meditation. But as soon as my mind started to drift, the little nagging voice came back: “You know you’re not going to get out!” When I finally got to sleep, I was dreaming about going through snow banks.
The next morning, I hiked back to the truck and looked at the snow banks. They weren’t quite as bad as my mind had suggested. I thought, “Okay, let’s go for it!” I made it out with no problem, but the worry habit of my mind had put a damper on my seclusion.
The antidote to worry
I had learned a valuable lesson. I realized that my worry habit reflected the mistaken notion that by thinking and fretting about the “critically important details” I had to juggle in my job, I would somehow make the situation better. But worry pulls the mind down into “problem-consciousness,” which offers no solutions. The antidote to worry is raising one’s consciousness through chanting, meditation, and offering the situation back to God.
For me, daily meditation has brought increasing non-attachment and a greater awareness of my wrong attitudes and habits, and how best to transcend them. With greater non-attachment, I am less bound by habit and am gradually gaining the discrimination to choose how I respond to the challenges in my life.
An explosion of anger
I’m not usually an angry person but I recently had a very interesting experience involving anger. At Ananda Village we had a voice mail system for a number of years which worked very well and enabled us to do many useful things. But we decided to change to a new one. There were some very good reasons for this change, but the new voice mail system was not, in my opinion, as well conceived as the old one. It gave us options to do things we didn’t need, and it was difficult to do some of the important things we needed to do. I found it frustrating.
Anger is born of frustrated desire. I had a desire to be able to communicate more easily than the new phone system allowed, and that desire was being thwarted. Unbeknownst to me, inside I was getting angry.
Our phone administrator decided to hold a class for those of us having difficulties with the new phone system. As soon as he walked in the room I “shot” him with my anger, and started ranting about “who programmed this thing?” Fortunately, he remained calm and I was able to take a step back and observe myself getting sucked into the anger that had been lurking just beneath the surface. All of us in the room were regular meditators. No one fed the anger and calmness was quickly restored.
The phone class taught me a number of ways I could bypass the aspects of the new system I found frustrating. The experience also taught me an important spiritual lesson. I don’t consider myself an angry person, but if we have certain kinds of desires and those desires are thwarted, we will become angry.
Why people recoil from the world
Fear is another emotion that uses up a lot of bandwidth on our channels. Paramhansa Yogananda said, “People recoil from the world because of fear; they don’t want to engage because they want to protect themselves from all those problems that are coming up.” He said, “It’s our religious duty to embrace every problem that is coming to us that demands a solution because it has been given to us by life for our own growth.”
Courage is the antidote to the fear. We have to be strong and say, “Whatever comes I am going to be happy!” My wife and I recently visited a devotee in Mexico, whom I will call Antonio, who has this kind of courage. For five or six years, Antonio has been in charge of an Ananda meditation group in a small town on the tropical coast of Mexico.
From the moment Antonio discovered Ananda five or six years ago, he was on fire for the spiritual path. He started the meditation group practically single-handedly, and thereafter supported nearly every aspect of the group’s activities, not only spiritually but also financially. As often happens with meditation groups, people came and went, and Antonio had to work very hard to keep the group going. My wife and I have visited him a number of times.
An abrupt change of fortunes
Antonio is a very successful architect and also a contractor. However, last year was a very difficult year for him — he lost nearly everything he owned. First his computers were stolen from his office. A short time later his office was burglarized again and nearly all of his equipment, including his truck, was stolen.
Around the time of the second burglary, Antonio was renovating a house for a woman. During the renovation, one of Antonio’s workers opened up a wall and found a box of jewelry worth about one hundred thousand dollars, which the woman had hidden there. The worker absconded with the jewelry and, when the woman found out, she blamed Antonio for the loss. She sued Antonio and refused to pay him for the work he had done on her house. His business was ruined.
Antonio was forced to take a job working six days a week with his brother, providing safety services at the local steel mill. He is in debt and struggling, but when we asked him how he was doing, he said, “I’m doing well. I am much closer to Divine Mother and the meditation group is much stronger. I have no money and no ability to do what I used to do, but I am closer to God and stronger.” The meditation group is stronger because Antonio could no longer carry the entire spiritual and financial responsibility for the group. He attracted the people he needed to keep the group going.
Antonio attributes his ability to transcend a test of this magnitude to his faith in God and Guru and his practice of Kriya Yoga. He wasn’t certain what karma had brought on his abrupt change of fortunes but his familiarity with the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and his deep faith, enabled him to remain unwavering in his spiritual commitment.
With courage we can embrace whatever comes to us. How do we reach the point of courage, acceptance, and non-attachment that Antonio reached? There are three key steps:
Step one: We first have to become aware of the attitudes, habits, and vortices of likes and dislikes that pull our consciousness down. When we become aware of them, we can start leaving them behind.
Step two: The second step is to aspire to live by God’s will, and not by our own desires and attachments. This means calling on God and asking for guidance in every situation involving a choice. We need to do everything with God, and after we’re finished, to give the results back to him. When we aspire to live by God’s will, no matter how imperfectly we do that, we begin to break the hold of ego.
Step three: The third step is to keep the consciousness of infinity. When we think of the omnipresent nature of God, or of the existence of billions of galaxies, or of the 24,000-year yuga cycle, we get the right sense of proportion and our problem with the new phone system seems pretty small.
Ultimately, we must strive to leave behind all wrong attitudes and replace them with devotion and other God-reminding attitudes and practices. We are already one with that Infinitude. When we get rid of bad attitudes and habits, we will realize that truth.
Based on a May 5, 2012 Sunday Service at Ananda Village
Atman and his wife Bhaktimarg are Lightbearers who have lived at Ananda Village since 1992. He currently serves as Ananda Village Manager in charge of planning and the day-to-day operations of the community.